It is almost a Merry Christmas for craft beer lovers living in Corrales. They can look to the heart of the village and see their own craft brewery rising up.
Ex Novo Brewing has gone from concept to almost-completed structure at 4895 Corrales Road. The 10,000 square-foot production brewery has taken shape in a lot on the west side of the street, across from the fire station and Corrales Bistro Brewery.
This will be the second Ex Novo, as the original is in Portland, Oregon. Owner Joel Gregory, however, is a Corrales native, and he wanted to bring his brewery home. Joel invited me to visit the construction site on Thursday afternoon.
“The last time we talked, all I had was dirt,” Joel said, referring to our first interview last year over beers at Steel Bender. “Now look at it.”
Besides the tour of the unfinished facility, Joel also had some news to share on two new developments.
“So we’ve hired a head brewer,” he said. “He starts in a couple weeks. We’re super excited. His name is Dave Chichura, he is coming from Melvin, (where) he was director of brewing operations. He’s been there since their expansion from a 3-barrel system.”
Melvin Brewing has been embroiled in a bit of controversy over employee behavior at its pub in Bellingham, Washington, and with its website and social media, but Joel said Chichura was not involved in any of that.
“He’s just a super solid guy,” Joel said. “We’re really excited to have him. Before that, he worked at Oskar Blues (as head brewer) for about eight years. He’s a veteran. He spent some time at Bell’s, he spent some time at a couple other mountain breweries. He started at Rock Bottom. He’s got some experience, he’s got himself a resumé.”
Chichura helped make Melvin into a regional powerhouse out of its original location in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. That will be his goal with Ex Novo as well, as the Corrales brewery will be quite a bit larger than the original in Portland.
“He’s definitely done what we’re doing in terms of we’ve got a good thing going and we’d like to scale it up a little bit,” Joel said. “That’s exactly what we’re looking for in a head brewer down here. So he’ll work in tandem with Ryan (Buxton), our Portland head brewer, on scaling recipes up, on QAQC (quality assurance/quality control) on existing brands, and on developing new brands. I don’t think he’s had the chance to do some of the kettle sour stuff that we are going to be doing. He’ll be working on some of that stuff from Ryan. We’re really stoked about this fit that we found. He’s just a solid guy who loves fly fishing and mountain biking.”
While Chichura will be in charge of making the beer, Ex Novo still needed a partner to get that beer out to the public.
“The other news was our distro situation, we signed with Premier,” Joel said. “We’re going to be handling our own draft (sales) in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. We’re going to just do our own thing there, and build those relationships, get some face time with accounts on the premises side. Premier is taking all off-premises and all draft accounts for the rest of the state. It was a tough decision, a big decision, but we feel pretty excited about what they can do for us.”
All operations will run out of the main Corrales brewery. Joel showed off the space, which was having the last of the walls and windows installed as we moved about.
“They’re finishing the framing right now,” Joel said. “The only interior framing right now is just for the office, lab, and a couple bathrooms. Then we had Cascade come out and do our super-fancy floors. They don’t look fancy right now, but believe me, they were really, really nice. And, more expensive than I would ever like to admit. They did the best job, truly.”
The brewery will have two brewhouses, a 20-barrel for primary production and a 5-barrel for the smaller seasonal and specialty beers. Those will be located in the southwest corner, adjacent to the aforementioned future office and laboratory.
“I’ve got my head brewer (Buxton) in Nebraska signing off on those,” Joel said. “Those are a couple, few weeks from being done. Then we’ll hard-pipe up overhead, then we’ll have the canning line over there (on the north side).”
There are a number of brewing tanks already on site, but Joel said by no means will the entire brewery be filled up from the start.
“It won’t be full when we start, obviously that would be a bad design if it was,” he said. “The amount of space it takes for storing cans, as you’ve probably seen at Bosque, is enormous. It will fill up that (northeast) corner. Then we’ll have the walk-in cooler over there (in the northwest corner). It’s a pretty simple building.”
The smaller fermenters for the seasonal/specialty brews also have a bit of a unique feature.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever seen stackable fermenters, but here they are,” Joel said. “We might as well not take up the floor space if we don’t have to. That’s the fun stuff about doing a custom system.”
Out in front of the brewery, facing Corrales Road, will be an expansive beer garden with a great view of the Sandia Mountains. Phase One of the development will call for only a smaller taproom located across the parking lot, on the northeast corner of the property. That building is already in place and being remodeled. The planned Phase Two restaurant will be in an L-shape and wrap around part of the north and east sides of the brewery building, but that is a long ways off.
For now, the small taproom building will seat about 40 inside, with more seats available in a sizable west-facing patio outside. Joel said they will likely put a tent over it during the colder months, similar to what places like Kaktus and Rowley Farmhouse Ales have done. There will be space beyond the west wall of the patio for one or two food trucks to park. Joel also said he hopes to strike deals with nearby restaurants like Corrales Bistro Brewery and Village Pizza to where customers can place an order from and have food delivered to Ex Novo.
“You’re going to be able to get some food here,” he said. “You don’t have to bring anything, you’ll be able to order it from here.”
While the construction continues apace, now it is just the waiting game for the Tax and Trade Bureau in Washington to send along its final approval, after which the State of New Mexico and Village of Corrales should send theirs as well.
“I applied in May, but they said they had to see walls,” Joel said. “The second we had something that looked like a wall, we re-submitted.
“I’m not focusing on (worrying) about it, I’m just working on getting this going.”
We wish Joel and the Ex Novo team all the patience in the world, and we certainly look forward to our next visit when things will look even more different than this time.
“I’ll give you a date when we’re brewing our first batch, and then we’ll go from there,” Joel said.
Cheers to that!